Blu-Ray Review: Funeral Home (1980)

FEBRUARY 7, 2024


Today marked the 17th birthday of Horror Movie A Day, and fittingly I spent part of it watching a Blu-ray of a movie that I saw back in the early days of the site. Funeral Home (aka Cries In The Night, which is the title that appears on the film itself but not the packaging) was part of the legendary 50 Chilling Classics set that provided me with such faves as Devil Times Five, Scream Bloody Murder, and of course, my beloved Cathy's Curse. It unfortunately is not as good as those; in fact I actually labeled it "Crap" at the time, which I reserved for movies with no redeeming values whatsoever. But even then I said it probably didn't deserve the same scorn as some of the other movies in there, and it doesn't. I've certainly seen worse.

Funeral Home's main problem isn't even its own fault. It was shot in 1979 and meant to be a thriller, but by the time it was released the slasher sub-genre was kind and so it was marketed (and retitled) to make it seem like one of those. And yes, it has a few deaths committed by an unseen stalker, so in a few scenes it very much feels at home with the Friday the 13ths and such that were so common back then. But it's really more of a Psycho riff, so "proto-slasher" would be more apt, and even on that level it's not particularly exciting. In fact it actually feels a lot like a TV movie from that era; Wes Craven's Summer of Fear came to mind a few times.

But the Psycho lifts get to be a bit grating, especially when the whole movie builds toward a nearly identical climax of the crazed old lady (an actual old lady this time, not her son in a dress) freaking out in the cellar next to a mummified corpse. There's nothing wrong with borrowing from this or that movie, certainly (Halloween took some stuff from the same one, in fact - and I prefer that one!), but you gotta make it your own and add a little flavor, which this movie doesn't actually do. Outside of the four kills (two of which are simultaneous - a couple in a car that the killer pushes over a conveniently adjacent cliff) the movie is just an endless series of scenes where our young heroine Heather (Lesleh Donaldson from Happy Birthday to Me and Curtains, another thing that doesn't help this movie's "not a slasher!" existence) gets suspicious about someone disappearing in the middle of the night, hears an old story that seemingly confirms her suspicions, then readily accepts her grandmother's explanation. It gets to the point where the grandmother NOT being the culprit would have been interesting, but since it sure seems she is (and, you know, she IS), it just leaves the main character - our surrogate - looking like a dope for 90 minutes.

The most suspenseful the movie gets is a scene involving the great Alf Humphreys as the town deputy, who also seems to be the only cop that's concerned about all the people who disappear when they stay in this small town. He's kind of a goof and not taken seriously (real Dewey vibes; he even has a sibling who mocks him), and then late in the movie there's a scene where he insists on seeing the room that the car couple stayed in, with the grandmother accompanying him and by this point not even trying to hide that she's evil. So you spend the whole scene worrying about poor Alf, offering the movie some tension the rest could have really used.

However, as I've learned over the years, every movie is someone's favorite movie, and even if I hated it I'd be the first to champion a remaster, because no movie deserves the fate it previously had. Like most of the transfers on that Chilling Classics set, Funeral Home was a cropped, murky mess, to the extent that I can't even quite place the screenshot I offered in my old review (I was going to do a "then and now" kind of thing but I literally can't tell what the image was). Indeed, I was surprised to see it's actually a fairly good looking movie courtesy of Mark Irwin, who at that point was already working with David Cronenberg and continued to do so for another 5-6 years. And it's also got a great score by Jerry Fielding, a frequent collaborator with Sam Peckinpah and Clint Eastwood, something the cruddy transfer wouldn't have allowed me to appreciate either as my ears would be exclusively focused on trying to make out the dialogue. There's a bit of a weird color shifting going on (more noticeably in the daytime scenes) that's probably due to print damage, but otherwise it's a fine transfer and I'm glad that the movie's fans won't have to suffer that Mill Creek version anymore.

Scream Factory has also assembled a pretty extensive collection of extras as well, including an audio interview with Donaldson and the film's 1st AD (offered as a commentary in the setup menu, so don't look for it in the extras), plus traditional interviews with Irwin, some of the set folks, and Brian Allen, whose father was executive producer Barry Allen. His is probably the most interesting interview, since he explains how the movie came to exist and why it ran into the distribution issues that it did (no movie ends up on a Mill Creek pack unless someone got screwed financially along the way). And he owns drive-ins now, which amused me as I can only imagine how many children were conceived in backseats during showings of this movie thanks to it failing to hold the audience's attention. Mike Felsher also stops by the house that's used as the titular home, showing how part of it has stayed pretty much the same almost 45 years later. I'm always charmed by those kind of videos so it was a nice addition.

The best extra, however, is the historian commentary by Jason Pichonsky And Paul Corupe, as they offer the usual bits of insight about the film and its players, but mostly spend the track discussing Canadian horror of the time and also how the films were given 100% tax rebates by the government, which is how we ended up with so many wacky movies at that time (including Cathy's Curse, though they sadly don't mention it by name). They also spend a good deal of time discussing director William Fruet, who had an interesting career that began in stage productions and dramas before finding success in the horror genre (he also gave us Spasms and the incredible Killer Party). Since he either couldn't be located or simply wasn't interested in contributing an interview or commentary of his own, it more than makes up for his absence by covering his biography pretty extensively.

So it's better than I remembered, but not by much (even Donaldson laughs about how boring it is, so I know it's not just me). But still, I'm glad I gave it another shot (and will go back and remove the "crap" tagging from my old review to be fair), though not as glad as I am for its fans that they finally have a decent way to watch it. And it's always nice to see a legit new title from Scream Factory, as they've pretty much burned through everything they are able to access and most of their recent releases are either 4K upgrades of movies they've already done, or "Who asked for this?" special editions of modern horror movies like the Child's Play remake. This felt like a golden era release!

What say you?


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